Hamilton, a 62,000-person town north of Cincinnati, saw a boom during the first half of the 20th Century, but after many factories were forced to close, the town went from prosperous to struggling.
In 2014, the poverty rate in Hamilton was 22.5% and only 15% of adults had college degrees. For the rest of the country, in 2014, 42 million households — 35% — were growing food in their homes or in community gardens, which was up 17% in the five previous years.
The Hamilton Urban Garden System (HUGS) came along to help bring Hamilton up to speed with the rest of the United States.
According to Civil Eats, although traditionally, urban gardening programs are confined to a single block or group, HUGS is attempting to meet the needs to as many Hamilton residents as possible.
The initiative has a central garden with plenty of volunteers as well as various gardens located in other areas around town, including one at a park and a rooftop garden atop a Hamilton business.
The central garden, called the “Field of Hope,” is located in a struggling neighborhood with few places for food.
“This is the right place for it,” said Alfred Hall, co-founder, along with his wife, Patty Burbacher, of HUGS.
Many of HUGS volunteers are local teens who are in outreach programs or working toward community service hours. Over a 22-week season, HUGS can produce approximately 2,000 pounds of organic food. They give away 25% of their entire product and sell the rest at local famers’ markets, online, and through a vegetable-devilry program.
“When we first came here, people looked at us like we were crazy,” said Burbacher. “They said, ‘Who needs organic food?'”
After the recent success, however, Hamilton residents are much more open to the idea.
“This is just a tool we use to build community,” added Hall.